I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for a £4 chai tea latte from a fancy coffee shop, especially at this time of year. Despite being born out of the sweltering humidity of India, there’s something about chai tea, probably the warming mixture of cinnamon, ginger and cloves, that suits Christmas and winter so well – it’s like a semi-healthy version of mulled wine (if you ignore the fact that I dump tablespoons of honey in my chai).
I’ve been trying to tweak this recipe over the last few weeks, and after hours of trawling through different recipes I think I’ve finally come up with a simple spicy masala chai recipe that I’m absolutely crazy about. Now it seems everyone has their own way of doing this recipe, and as with all my specific recipes from certain cultures, if this isn’t the right way to make masala chai, I’m really sorry, but for me, this is a recipe that I like and that I think works.
This recipe is also based on staples I have in my kitchen. For example, the milk. Traditionally masala chai requires full-fat cows milk, which is something that I’ve bought maybe twice in my life. Now to be honest, you should be using full fat milk in to make chai, because full fat milk has a high enough fat content to extract the flavours from the spices. However, in every recipe I read you ended up adding water the the chai anyway, so I increased the ratio of milk to water, and used semi-skimmed milk (I wouldn’t recommend using skimmed milk). Saying that, I don’t typically drink a lot of cow’s milk, I’ve been a big advocate of plant-based milks for the last four or five years. If you want to replace the cow’s milk in this recipe with a vegan alternative I would recommend something with a high fat content, maybe coconut milk, cashew nut milk or soy milk, and maybe a teaspoon of coconut oil for good measure. I wouldn’t go for almond milk, as the flavours just won’t develop properly. I also opted to use honey in this recipe, as opposed to sugar, just because I think the flavour of the honey adds to the richness of the drink, something white sugar just can’t do. Again, if you want to make this recipe vegan, you can replace the honey for maple syrup or agave nectar, just bare in mind that these can sometimes seem a little sweeter than honey. For me there was no question about using fresh ginger. I love ginger (I genuinely couldn’t live without it. I’m the sort of person who eats crystallised ginger as a treat) and for this reason I opted not to used ground ginger. In my opinion fresh ginger has an almost citrus bite to it, and that’s what you want in your spicy masala chai, a warming smooth drink with a bit (or a lot) of bite! Finally the tea, there seems to be lots of conflicting information online about what tea to use, whether to use proper darjeeling or a cheaper variety. In general people seem to agree that the tea should be black, and loose leaf. (Although I’m interested to find our what would happen if you used Rooibos tea, if you try it let me know!) Every time I have made this recipe I used an English Afternoon tea, a mixture of a black South Indian Nilgiri tea and a lighter Kenyan tea, but I truly believe that any black tea that you’ve got in the cupboard will do.
- 10 green cardamom pods
- 1/4 teaspoon of fennel seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon of cloves
- 1/8th whole nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon of black peppercorns
- About an inch length of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 1/2 teaspoons of loose leaf black tea
- 1 1/2 mugs of milk
- 1/2 mug of water
- honey – to taste
- Lightly grind all the dry spices (apart from the cinnamon stick) in a pestle and mortar
- In a small saucepan or ideally milk pan, heat the milk and water together, on a low heat. Add the ground spices, the cinnamon stick and the ginger, grate a little nutmeg into the milk and bring to a simmer. (Make sure you stir the milk regularly to stop it from scorching)
- Allow the milk to simmer for a few minutes before adding the tea, heat for a further few minutes, depending on how strongly you want the chai to taste of tea.
- Take the tea off the heat and strain through a sieve into a jug or into two mugs.
- Sweeten with honey, and serve.